50 years of PMQs: the best moments

The best videos, including "Stalin to Mr Bean", "we saved the world" and "calm down, dear!"

This week marks 50 years since the first PMQs (Harold Macmillan vs. Hugh Gaitskell, since you ask). So, by way of celebration, here are some of the most memorable moments from the weekly joust.

Blair on Major: "weak, weak, weak"

Here, from his clashes with John Major, are two of Tony Blair's most artful put-downs. In the first clip from 25 May 1995, the young Labour leader taunts Major's inability to control his anti-European backbenchers. "There is one very big difference - I lead my party, he follows his." Major later described it in his memoirs as "the best one-liner he ever used against me".

In the second from 30 January 1997 (again concerning Europe), Blair brands Major "weak, weak, weak" for failing to impose a joint line on the euro.

Cameron to Blair: "you were the future once"

And here's the "heir to Blair" in action at his first PMQs, telling his rival "you were the future once" and reprimanding the Labour chief whip for "shouting like a child".

Cable on Brown: "Stalin to Mr Bean"

It was Andrew Turnball, the former head of the civil service, who declared in March 2007 that Gordon Brown operated with "Stalinist ruthlessness". But eight months later, after a run on Northern Rock, the loss of 25 million child benefit records and another donations scandal, the description no longer seemed so appropriate. Vince Cable, then acting leader of the Lib Dems, caught the mood when he quipped that Brown had gone "from Stalin to Mr Bean" in a matter of weeks.

Brown: "we saved the world"

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman memorably asked: "Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?" and answered in the affirmative. But Krugman's praise appeared to have gone to Brown's head when he told the Commons: "we saved the world". His humourless response (Blair would have quipped "we'll get round to that later") only made matters worse.

Cameron to Angela Eagle: "calm down, dear!"

Finally, from earlier this year, here's Cameron's ill-advised riposte to Angela Eagle. For an idea of how the remark went down with the Lib Dems, just contrast Nick Clegg's stony face with George Osborne's guffawing.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo:Getty
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.